Less than a week after undergoing his first chemotherapy treatment for stage 3 follicular lymphoma cancer, Wayne “Wild Thang” Ward plans to enter the wrestling ring for his dream match Saturday against legendary Dothan referee “Dirty” Larry Brock.
“ I was over at Larry’s house and I was telling him I was diagnosed with the cancer,” Ward said. “He got really upset, you know?”
So Ward tried to lighten the mood.
“ I said, ‘I want to get in the ring with you just one more time,’” Ward recalls. “And I shouldn’t have said that, because he got on the phone after I left and the next thing I know, we were going to do this match.”
The event – being called “Once Upon a Wild Thang’s Dream” – is scheduled to take place in an air-conditioned exhibit building adjacent to the Houston County Farm Center, the site of many historic wrestling matches over the years.
The family-friendly event starts at 7 p.m. with the doors opening at 6. Tickets are $15 for the front row and $10 for general admission.
There will be matches with stars from the local promotion Wiregrass Wrestling Alliance, but the headliner will be the 58-year-old Ward against Brock, his longtime friend in and out of the ring.
The two go way back to when Ward was a young fan of professional wrestling and Brock was just getting his start in the business during cards at the Farm Center.
“ I really got interested in it (wrestling) when I was 9-10 years old,” Ward said. “I would walk from the house over on Sixth Avenue all the way out to the Farm Center. I’d sell Cokes and popcorn and peanuts – stuff like that.
“ I’d just sit around talking with the wrestlers. I’d try to get there early because ol’ Larry Brock would be setting up the ring. I’d help him a little bit. He was a little bit older than me. Of course he was refereeing way back then. We just become friends; I guess what you’d call it. I just kind of hung around him.”
Brock became a well-known referee throughout the southeast and even donned the wrestling trunks on occasion.
“ If I got a dollar for everybody’s that called me an ugly name in there (ring), I wouldn’t have to work again in my life,” Brock said with a chuckle.
He used the word “Priceless” when asked what the upcoming match means to him.
“ I would do it for anybody, but he’s one of my great friends,” Brock said. “It’s going to be his night.”
Woody Yon will be the referee for the match Saturday night. He’s been part of the wrestling business for 30 years and is a cancer survivor.
“ Ten years ago they said I never would do this again,” Yon said. “Look at me now. I’m right here for him. I’m supporting him.”
Bill Gamble, the owner and promoter for the WWA, is just glad he could help make it all happen.
“ Woody called and ran the idea by me, and I didn’t know whether to jump up and down or cry,” Gamble said. “I can’t put it into words what it felt like to even be part of it.”
Ward spent years as a professional wrestler, mainly working small circuits throughout Alabama and Georgia. Ward said he once had an opportunity to work for the nationally-known WCW full time, but declined.
“ I did a show over in Georgia somewhere and Chris Sullivan (former WCW/WWF wrestler) was there,” Ward said. “When the match was over I went to the dressing room and Chris came in.
“ He introduced himself and said, ‘You’re one of the better ones that I’ve been in the ring with.’ He said, ‘I’d like to know if you’re interested in going with WCW?’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t know.’
“ He asked me to send him a tape and pictures, blah, blah, blah. He gave me his business card and all of that stuff. I was raising two boys. I’m more family-oriented. He told me I’d have to be gone 11 months out of the year. I didn’t like that idea and I just never followed through with it.”
Ward continued to wrestle on and off throughout the years until he was physically unable.
“ I ended up blowing out my stomach lining,” Ward said. “I’ve got rods and pins in my back and I’ve had open heart surgery. I was not physically able.”
And then four months ago Ward learned he had cancer.
“ They scared me to death when they first told me,” Ward said. “They said if I didn’t receive any treatment at all I might have six months to a year. Naturally I went to trying to seek treatment. I’ve got so many doctors with all the problems I have. It’s just one thing on top of another.
“ I’m planning on dealing with it the way I’ve dealt with everything and that’s straight up and wide open. I’ve always been a fighter and I’m going to keep on.”
It was Brock who dubbed Ward “Wild Thang” many years ago.
“ Just out of the blue one morning we were in the truck and he says, ‘You look wild today. That’s your name, Wild Thang.’ It just kind of stuck,” Ward said.
Hearing the reaction of the crowd again is something Ward is certainly looking forward to.
“ If the crowd is there like I think they will be – just the roar is a whole different feeling,” Ward said. “Just to know you can go out there and do a show and please the people is what actually counts.”
Ward said the wrestling community is a special one.
“ I just don’t think there can be any better friends than what you can come up with through the wrestling business,” Ward said. “And Larry Brock is one of the best.”